App review: Zinio for iPad

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Zinio is one of my favorite iPad apps of all time; it’s a magazine service that lets you subscribe to digital versions of paper magazines and have them delivered on your device, and it’s a very neat service. Read on to learn more.

Zinio has been around for years. They have reader apps for desktop OSes as well as browser based readers, and apps for both Android and iOS. The 7″ Galaxy Tab even ships with it installed! The concept is simple; you browse their store and buy magazines either one at a time or as subscriptions. You then launch the reader on your desired device and the magazines will be available there.

The selection that Zinio has is quite good. Their website has hundreds of magazines ranging from lifestyle, fashion and gossip magazines to computers and the iPad itself. Prices range as well, with some magazines going for as little as $10 for a year (10-12 issues). Almost all the magazines are available on the iPad, with the exception of some that break Apple’s nudity rules. If you subscribe, the magazines will automatically pop up when a new issue is available, completely hassle-free. The magazines are not by Zinio themselves, but rather your typical paper magazine with titles that you will definitely recognize, like Science Illustrated, PC Mag etc.

The magazines you get are essentially the same as the paper versions. Links are normally clickable, which is nice, and they have a text mode which gives you a plain document looking version of an article for easy reading. There are also some magazines that have special interactive issues (which never got released in paper form) with video and such, but unless you go looking for these it’s unlikely that you’ll find them.

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The app itself gives you a basic view with magazines as thumbnails with the option to sort by date, title etc. When reading a magazine, you either get two pages side-by-side (landscape mode) or one page at a time (portrait mode). You turn the page by sliding it and you can also browse quickly using a thumbnail mode of the pages at the bottom. In single-page mode you should be able to read the text without zooming and panning, because of the iPad’s very handy 768×1024 resolution (and aspect ratio). Any lower, like on the Galaxy Tab, and you can forget about it, though it depends on the magazine as well.

The app is mostly stable and straight forward, but there are some bugs and annoyances. The random error messages are always fun; debug message never meant for the end user pops up every now and then. Sometimes magazines won’t load, sometimes they will show up but not be possible to open, sometimes the download is stupid slow etc. The most annoying in my opinion is that the app icon will display how many unread/new magazines you have, but this feature is completely random and will show a high number of unread magazines which you’ve read with no option to turn off the counter or tell it that you have indeed read them. In other words, it seems to “forget” what you’ve read every once in a while, which just makes the whole counter thing pointless. Another annoyance is the lack of ability to download many magazines at once without clicking a magazine to read it, go back, etc- and that just confuses the app and makes it stop downloads at random. That means that if you ‘re going on a trip and want to cache magazines beforehand, that’s a rather manual task at this point

The worst thing about Zinio is how they handle your personal info. In fact this issue is why I originally hadn’t planned on doing an article about them, but I’ve mentioned the app in passing so many times I feel I should. Long story short, there is an issue with how they do promotions; they team up with certain magazines and give those out for free, automatically pushing them out to everyone. Unfortunately their system then (intentionally or not) registers you as their subscriber, meaning they get your email address. The result? Well, I have plenty of emails in my inbox from such magazines as VIVmag and Smithsonian, which I’ve never even heard of let alone willingly subscribed to. I don’t know if this is still an issue as I gave them a filtered email after the first round of spam, but you might consider doing the same.

Zinio is a double edged sword if there ever was one. I love being able to get magazines for cheap, but Zinio itself is to me a pathetic excuse for a company. I wouldn’t use the service at all if Zinio also made the magazines, but luckily that’s not the case. In many ways they’re like Audible; horrible company that provides good content. The bugs in the app are not deal breakers, so the only question you have to ask yourself is whether you can live with the company’s behavior in order to use their service. For me the answer to this is yes, simply because I love reading magazines. If you do sign up though, make sure to use a filtered email address so you can block out the spam (unless they fixed this, I wouldn’t know at this point as I’ve been filtering their emails for a year).

The app is free in the app store, subscriptions and magazines cost money.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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